I draw the webcomic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things and work on cartoons you might see on TV sometimes.
If you don’t have connections or any foreseeable way to make them, you’ll probably need to go to a school. I guess for comics, if you want to do Indie stuff all you need are good ideas and some social networking online, but if you want to be working on TV shows and the like, you will almost always not only need to know people, but need people who like you enough that they would stake their own reputations on you. After all, I recommend you to my boss, then you don’t pull your weight, I look bad for convincing them to hire you.
My first job on By the Rapids was arranged through a school internship program, my second job on Ugly Americans was something I got on my own by doing a test, but the only reason I knew they were hiring was because my friends from school tipped me off. My Third job, the studio I’m at now I got because a bunch of my friends from school were here and recommended me when they heard my old contract was up. So as much as people say “school is worthless, you can learn everything they teach there from a book”, school’s really given me a leg up in the industry.
If you don’t live where the jobs are (unless you’re doing a creator-owned comic) you’ll probably need to. If you’re applying to somewhere in a different city than where you live and that fact has to come up, you have to stress pretty clearly that moving is no problem, you wanted to be in that city anyway and that kind of thing, most places don’t want the burden of moving someone across the country if they aren’t absolutely sure they’ll be able to employ them for a while. And since most animation contracts are fairly short (4-9 months), you’ll need to be confident that you can either move back, find a new job, or support yourself some other way when you’re done.
Be polite but not creepy and pestering. When I finished my UA test, I wrote them a polite thank-you letter saying how excited I was about the project and how happy I would be to be involved with it, and apparently that was what tipped the scales in my favour. ONE letter. Avoid using words like “Love” or talk about your slavish fanboyism for the project or anything that would make the folks potentially hiring you feel uncomfortable. Make a good impression, they need to know you can get along with the other people in the studio bullpen.
Don’t talk down about yourself or apologize for your portfolio. if something in your portfolio is tempting you to say “that’s not that great” TAKE IT OUT. You’re supposed to be convincing these people that they should choose you over dozens, or possibly hundreds of other hopefuls, if you’re not so confident in your art, sell your work ethic, that kind of thing.